Pros and Cons of Combination Woodworking Machines

They're versatile, but having one machine that does many different things can make organizing the work less convenient. March 14, 2006

Are there any small pro shops out there using a 5 in 1 combination machine to produce work? If so, which ones have you used, what are your likes and dislikes, and would you recommend one for a small 1-2 man shop that does a fair amount of hand work?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A:
Do a Google search for user groups. I don't have one personally but know some folks who do. I think an added bonus is working in a more methodical fashion and changeovers are real quick. MiniMax, Felder, Knapp, etc all appear to be good units. The Europeans are leading the way in woodworking technology, and the slot mortiser is one of the best kept secrets.

From contributor B:
Slot mortisers are not only one of the best secrets but are easy, fun, efficient and cost effective to use.

From contributor C:
I'm a one man show in a 1000 sq ft space and I use a Felder 741 Pro that set me back about 16K. I have used all sorts of high end dedicated machinery at other jobs but I had only a 2 car garage to start so space was a premium. The euro stuff is well engineered and designed. I've had my machine 5 years with no problems.

The pros are the quality of the machine and tooling - it's first rate. The cons are the time it takes to change from function to function. You can't walk up and take a quick pass through the planer. Replacement parts are expensive and the saw blades have a proprietary feature so you can't shop around. Also, you are limited to one function at a time so you can't have someone milling while you're using the saw. Fortunately, Felder has more sales now and you can order off their website. If space is a premium, they're a great way to go.

From contributor D:
I think it depends on the way you work. Are you methodical and organized enough to do all of your machining in one set-up? It's a huge waste of time to have to go back and spend 15 minutes setting up the shaper or a compound angle cut because you missed a set of rails, not to mention the added frustration. I have a very small one man shop but I buy only full sized dedicated machines (2 saws, 3 shapers, etc.) I have my plate heaping full getting stuff built and do not need to waste time and headache setting up machines and switching over functions. I like to go to a saw and cut. I like to go to a planer and plane. I do not like to go to a combo machine and spend 3 minutes cranking five different levers to make one small cut. Imagine doing that six times a day! I think, especially for a one man shop, that efficiency should be a top priority because we don't have anyone we can delegate to. We must do everything ourselves. The best place to start is in the shop layout and machinery choices. Less time spent puttering means more time being productive. And I need my sanity at the end of the day!

From contributor E:
On the other side of what contributor D said, I managed a small three man shop for a while with a Felder. We produced high end cabinetry (about 350k/year) and a plus of the Felder was that it forces you to make an efficient system around it. I had to make sure everyone was organized and systematic about how they were doing things, to minimize the problems (someone didn't make enough parts on the shaper, so he now needs to wait until someone else is done on the slider, etc.) It can be a real challenge, but I think in the end, it makes your workflow more efficient.

From contributor F:
I would also find it frustrating to move a bunch of levers to joint one board edge. I have only dedicated machines and I still get in a bind sometimes when I am set up with a bevel on the saw and then I need to rip a piece of material to help jig the bevel operation.
That said, I do have a lot of room in my building.

From contributor G:
I used a Felder in London for two months but back home in NZ I have single operation machines. The Felder is wonderfully solid and accurate. A couple of times by my own mistake I had to try to cut with the saw without breaking down the spindle set-up. It got tricky just removing the infeed fence. Back home I often run and rip moldings from a wide board and I would miss that a lot with a combo, although you could just do more boards if possible. Actually I found the under/over buzzer the biggest hassle and many use one even with separate saws and spindles.

From contributor H:
We are a small shop and with cramped space. I looked hard at the combo machines but opted to go with individual machines. In a small 1-3 man shop, in my opinion it is imperative that each person be as productive as possible. Having two people standing around waiting for a jointer or planer or shaper while the other guy is ripping a bunch of panels is really not very efficient. We simply put all of our machines on casters and designed the shop so they each have their own storage spot.

From contributor I:
I work on a Felder at my day job and have a MiniMax at home. I would not make one of these the main machine in a professional shop. I do think they would make a tremendous back-up machine for some operations, and a great machine for others. The mortiser and the 12" wide jointer could be used most all the time, and the other operations might let someone keep a setup on the main machine while you do something tricky on the combo. I would hate to run 250 board feet on any of the thickness planers. I would hate the bending over all the time, or cranking the table down with 40 or 50 revs to get the dust hood to come over to change back the machine.

From contributor J:
I will stick with my dedicated machines, and I have one man shop, 28 x 36. There are always times when you’re running something thru the tablesaw and you’re setting up and then you find you need to make a pass on the jointer - or you find out you need to make jig really quick to make it work better or faster. I think a combo machine sounds good but in the long run you’ll wish your machines were dedicated.

From contributor K:
I have a Robland combo machine - table saw, shaper, jointer, thickness planer, horizontal boring. It's a good machine, but I never use it! I have found myself buying dedicated units instead. It has turned into a secondary dedicated unit to whatever I need at the moment. Typically it is used for a secondary shaper cut.